Biden's debate debacle adds wild card uncertainty to Chicago's Democratic National Convention

If the president stays in the race, as it seems he will, the question will be which Joe Biden will show up in Chicago to accept his nomination — the faltering debater or a president fit to serve?

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Head and shoulders, 3/4 profile shot of President Joe Biden pointing as he speaks during a presidential debate, with a blue blurred CNN backdrop.

President Joe Biden at the debate with former President Donald Trump on Thursday in Atlanta.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance in Atlanta on Thursday added new wild card variables to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this August, which was on course to be a highly scripted, four-night show with no surprises.

Now it is not.

On Sunday, there was no sign that Biden will quit the race and throw the Aug. 19-22 Democratic convention at the United Center to the delegates on the convention floor.

Biden, 81 — facing a rematch with former President Donald Trump, 78 — is not going anywhere. For now. Biden has a grace period until the next round of post-debate polling comes out.

What this means for the convention — since Biden is likely staying in — is uncertainty.

The giant question: Which Biden shows up to deliver the keynote on the last night of the convention?

Will it be the Atlanta Biden, a president who stumbled badly with his answers and showed his age in the worst way?

Or will it be the State-of-the-Union Biden, or the Biden we’ve seen these past few days after the debate at a rally and fundraisers, who seemed OK?

The one bad night defense: The literal party line is that Biden had one bad night and can power past it. Just like former President Barack Obama did in 2012 when Mitt Romney way outperformed him in their first debate. Said Obama in an X post, “Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself.”

Not all bad debates are equal: Obama lost his first 2012 debate to Romney because he rambled and did not make the case for himself. Despite Obama’s flubs, no one questioned his fitness to serve. That’s the problem here.

According to David Axelrod: As Ax, who was Obama’s top adviser, said in an X post, “Reality check: @JoeBiden is the nominee of the Democratic Party, nominated by voters in primaries across the country. Unless the @POTUS himself, decides to quit — which he won’t — that issue is settled. The discussion that is going on now was timely a year ago, when few wanted to have it. It’s largely irrelevant today.”

Democrats divided over Biden: A CBS News/YouGov national survey, released Sunday and conducted June 28-29, paints a grim picture for Biden, with 72% overall saying he should not be running — and 45% of Democrats saying Biden should step aside. Overall, only 27% say Biden has the “mental and cognitive health to serve as president.”

Democratic rules: Biden needs to be nominated by Aug. 7 to get on the Ohio ballot, unless Ohio Republicans give Democrats a break. Elaine Kamarck, director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws committee, told me if Biden is nominated early and drops out before the convention, then delegates at an open convention would pick another nominee. If Biden drops out after the convention, then the members of the Democratic National Committee select his replacement.

Luntz on swing states, undecided voters: Swing state polls are more important than national polls. The way a president is elected is to collect 270 electoral votes. Pollster and communications strategist Frank Luntz said on CNN there are just a few undecided voters, and “where this does matter is those key swing states, and in particular Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, they matter most.” And on that point...

Illinois Democrats mobilizing to beat Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin

A coalition of Democratic groups in blue state Illinois has been sending troops to Wisconsin and Michigan. “Operation Swing State” is a project “designed to recruit, train and mobilize volunteers to defeat” Trump in those two states, said Ben Head, who is running the effort, along with Patrick Hanley, president of the New Trier Democrats.

Head, political director for Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said “voter turnout in these states could decide the presidential election this November. Volunteers in Illinois have an incredible opportunity — Chicago is just a 90-minute drive to some of the most crucial battleground precincts in the country.”

On Tuesday, Illinois Democrats held a fundraiser at the Sketchbook Brewing Co. in Skokie to raise money for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, with the party’s executive director, Ben Wikler, serving as the headliner. Carol Ronen, the former Springfield lawmaker and member of the Democratic National Committee, said in her invite that Biden carried Wisconsin in 2020 “by less than 11,000 votes. Wisconsin Dems have asked for our help; we could make the difference.”

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